Tuesday, December 23, 2008


214th post

Back to Disney today!
Disney has a history of memorable villains in their movies. Some were played for laughs; some were a bit more serious. But which ones were the "great" ones? Here's my opinion.

(Honorable mention: Shere Khan (The Jungle Book)

This terrible tiger appears in only three scenes towards the end of the movie, but his unseen presence presses like a lead weight throughout, and he set new standards for Disney villains in both on-screen brutality and supercilious attitude--you can draw a clear line from actor George Sanders, termed by film critic Leonard Maltin "the master of urbane, suave, subtle villainy", to #5 on the list, via #1 (chronologically). Disney villains would never be the same.)
#10. The Queen (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)
At first glance, the wicked Queen seems no different personality-wise from the other cookie-cutter evil stepmothers/witches/etc. so popular in fairy tales and other early Disney films. But besides her spectacularly terrifying tansformation into a hideous reflection of her inner self, one "throwaway" scene is enough to chill you to the bone.
#9. Madame Medusa (The Rescuers)
While being literally nothing more than a knockoff of the #4 pick, this is one scary villainess (possibly more a reflection of the original's magnitude than her own, but regardless). Willing to risk a child's life for the sake of a fabulous diamond, Geraldine Page's character also seems to pull herself above the slapstick comedy she is often in the middle of.

Plus, badass swampmobile.
#8. Sykes (Oliver & Company)
Robert Loggia was the perfect choice to voice the menacing New York gangster, who thinks nothing of snuffing out people's lives (at one point you hear him ordering someone over the phone to "put on the cement shoes") and owns a pair of like-minded Doberman Pinschers. Then he cranks up the cool-o-meter by chasing the film's heroes into the subway.
In a car.
Both meet suitably violent ends--the dogs fry up on the third rail, and Sykes himself winds up with perhaps the most gruesome death of any Disney villain: run over by a train.
#7. Percival McLeach (The Rescuers Down Under)
McLeach is a poacher, which by kiddie-friendly animal-loving Disney standards is probably the most horrifying sort of villainy imaginable. Eventually he takes the steps up to kidnapping and (attempted) murder and falls down a waterfall.

Plus, George C. Scott and his ginormous half-track beat the original movie's villain hands-down.
#6. The Horned King (The Black Cauldron)
If only, if only... there were so many ways that with a tweak here or there, The Black Cauldron might have been something watchable. Instead, emblematic of the finished product, we get this version of the Horned King who starts out too far above "G" level and thereafter falls flat both in terms of menace and, especially, animation. But it's a testament both to John Hurt's diabolical voice and that initial scene that raise this villain to the #6 spot.

#5. Scar (The Lion King)

Jeremy Irons was simply born to play villains, and this is one of his best performances. In short, kills his brother, usurps the throne, makes his nephew think it's his fault, has his lackeys try to kill said nephew, tries killing him himself, gets eaten by hyenas in the middle of a raging inferno. And remember, this is only the #5 slot.
#4. Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians)
"If she doesn't scare you, no evil thing will..." She's been often described in commercials as "Disney's most notorious villain ever", and Cruella certainly doesn't miss the mark by that much. Desiring fur coats made of cute widdle puppies' pelts, Cruella's not all that different from McLeach the poacher (except in personality), until the end. Then she and her car transform into a demonic hybrid that... well, just watch and let that face (at the 1:44 mark) haunt your nightmares.

#3. The Coachman (Pinocchio)
"The Coachman?" you might ask. "Isn't he one of the more minor villains?" Well, yes--but he is also the example par excellance bar none of maximizing screen time. The animators did a terrific job of giving him an aura of menace... and then they gave him a close-up.
[No video available as the author is too scared to search for an appropriate clip.]
"They never come back... as boys!!!" I have not worked up the nerve to watch this scene since the first time I saw it at age 3. More concrete reasons for placing him so high on the list is his treatment of the boys he lures to Pleasure Island and are subsequently transformed into donkeys.
#2. Judge Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Tony Jay first came to Disney's attention when he auditioned for the role of Monsieur D'Arque, the corrupt Asylum Keeper, in Beauty and the Beast. They were so impressed that not only was all his dialogue in the movie taken from that audition, but it catapulted him into being their first choice for Frollo, the main villain of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
This is the result.

What can beat that? Welll...
It's hard to choose just one Disney villain to place at #1; certainly, the top 5 are so grouped so closely together as to be virtually indistinguishable. But eventually the honor went to "a genius twisted for evil, the Napoleon of crime", the utterly amoral, devious, overbearing, frightening, maniacal creation of a Vincent Price allowed free rein to swallow whole amounts of scenery without bothering to chew... give it up for the one of whom it was said "there's no evil scheme he wouldn't concoct, no depravity he wouldn't commit"... it is, of course
#1. Professor Ratigan (The Great Mouse Detective)
The World's Greatest Criminal Mind!

BONUS! Most Badass Line Dilevered By A Disney Villain:
Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)
"Now shall you deal with me, o prince--and all the powers of Hell!"

TODAY'S BOOK: "Beetles, Lightly Toasted", by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor ((c) 1987)


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